Abstract: Who Receives Child Support in Latin America? a Comparative Analysis of Six Countries (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Who Receives Child Support in Latin America? a Comparative Analysis of Six Countries

Friday, January 18, 2019: 10:45 AM
Union Square 22 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Laura Cuesta, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Merita Jokela, PhD, Doctoral Candidate, University of Turku, Finland
Mia Hakovirta, PhD, Academic Researcher, University of Turku, Finland
Holly Malerba, PhD, MSW Candidate, Rutgers University-Newark

Child support from a nonresident parent has the potential to improve the well-being of the increasing number of children who are being raised by a single mother and who often experience economic hardship. Child support reduces poverty among single-mother families in a number of developed and developing countries. Yet, a significant proportion of families eligible for child support do not receive this transfer. We have begun to understand factors explaining this phenomenon in some developed nations but we know less about the determinants of child support receipt in middle and low-income economies and how contextual factors influence this process. A recent exception examines the association of country of residence with child support receipt in Colombia and the U.S. but the role of the child support policy scheme (CSPS) is not explored. We extend this literature by examining the factors associated with child support receipt in six Latin American countries, including the CSPS.


We use the Luxembourg Income Study wave IX and the 2012 Colombian Quality of Life Survey. Our sample includes 12,701 single-mother families from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. We first examine the characteristics of single-mother families in each country. We then estimate two probit models. In the first model we regress child support receipt on family characteristics, separately for each country. In the second model we pool data from all countries to regress child support receipt on family characteristics and a series of indicators of country of residence. In the final version of the study we will estimate two additional models. In the third model we will use a dichotomous measure of whether the single-mother family has access to a hybrid CSPS (i.e., judges and public agencies participate in the CSPS) vs. a court-based scheme (i.e., judges are the main actors of the CSPS) to examine the role of the CSPS. In the fourth model we will use indicators of country of residence and interaction terms to explore whether the characteristics associated with child support receipt are similar across countries.


            The percentage of single-mother families receiving child support in these countries ranges from 14.1% in Guatemala to 47.9% in Uruguay. Families in which the mother has a high level of education are more likely to receive child support in all countries, even after controlling for other family characteristics associated with child support receipt and country of residency. Our analyses also suggest that single-mother families living in countries with a hybrid CSPS (Peru) are more likely to receive child support than single-mother families living in some countries with court-based regimes (Guatemala and Panama). However, this advantage disappears when compared with Uruguay, the country with the oldest court-based CSPS in Latin America.  


A significant proportion of single-mother families do not receive child support in the countries included in this study. However, there is variation in the extent of this problem. Policies designed to improve the economic well-being of single-mother families in Latin America should consider both individual and contextual factors.